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Utilities, preferences, and substantive goods

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  • John C. Harsanyi

    (University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA)

Abstract

People's utility levels are meant to be measures of their well-being. Early utilitarians defined them in terms of people's happiness. Modern economics defines them in terms of people's actual preferences. But in ethics they have to be defined in terms of people's informed preferences. I shall discuss the relationship between people's desires and preferences, and that between their reasoned and unreasoned preferences. I shall argue that people's basic desires are much the same, whereas their preferences are often very different. Finally, I shall argue, contrary to Scanlon's theory, that the things that are good for us are beneficial to us ultimately because they satisfy our biological and psychological needs and our personal interests.

Suggested Citation

  • John C. Harsanyi, 1996. "Utilities, preferences, and substantive goods," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 14(1), pages 129-145.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:sochwe:v:14:y:1996:i:1:p:129-145
    Note: Received: 8 July 1996
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    1. repec:ebl:ecbull:v:4:y:2003:i:31:p:1-7 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Dolan, Paul & Metcalfe, Robert, 2012. "The relationship between innovation and subjective wellbeing," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 41(8), pages 1489-1498.
    3. Johansson-Stenman, Olof, 2001. "Environmental Policy when People's Preferences are Inconsistent, Non-Welfaristic, or simply Not Developed," Working Papers in Economics 34, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
    4. Xiao Luo & Yi-Chun Chen, 2004. "A Unified Approach to Information, Knowledge, and Stability," Econometric Society 2004 Far Eastern Meetings 472, Econometric Society.
    5. Lelkes, Orsolya, 2006. "Knowing what is good for you: Empirical analysis of personal preferences and the "objective good"," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 35(2), pages 285-307, April.
    6. Ricardo Arlegi, 1998. "Incomplete Preferences and The Preference for Flexibility," Documentos de Trabajo - Lan Gaiak Departamento de Economía - Universidad Pública de Navarra 9819, Departamento de Economía - Universidad Pública de Navarra.
    7. repec:kap:copoec:v:28:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s10602-016-9227-5 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Johansson-Stenman, Olof, 2003. "Should policy be concerned with objective or subjective risks?," Working Papers in Economics 93, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
    9. Johansson-Stenman, Olof, 2006. "Mad Cows, Terrorism and Junk Food: Should Public Policy Reflect Subjective or Objective Risks?," Working Papers in Economics 194, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.

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